Sunday's $245,000 Vanity Handicap (gr. I) at Hollywood Park looked for all the world to be a two-horse duel between Adoration and Star Parade, but Victory Encounter and jockey Alex Solis had other ideas.
After Adoration, the winner of last year's Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I), and grade I winner Star Parade, battled through grueling fractions, Solis and Victory Encounter, far off the pace in the 1 1/8-mile Vanity most of the way, kicked into gear from the quarter pole. Victory Encounter cruised by the front-runners on the inside in the closing stages to win going away by 2 1/2 lengths.
Adoration, the 4-5 choice, led Star Parade, sent off at 8-5, all the way and finished second by a length over her rival. Star Parade had won graded stakes races over Adoration in two of three previous meetings.
Victory Encounter, a 4-year-old Victory Speech filly, was claimed by John Sadler for owner Tom Mankiewicz for $32,000 at Santa Anita just over a year ago.
A grade II winner in January, she was sent off at 7-1 in a field reduced to just four after two race-day scratches. Victory Encounter covered the nine furlongs in 1:48 1/5.
Adoration, with Mike Smith aboard, won the break from her inside post and was in control of the pace through solid fractions of :23 2/5, :46 1/5 and 1:09 3 /5 while Star Parade was under pressure from Victor Espinoza to keep up. Coming off the final turn, Adoration edged Star Parade out to the middle of the track and slowly pulled away as the two continued to battle down the lane.
In the mean time, though, a fresh Victory Encounter, close to a dozen lengths off the pace as they hit the turn, gained ground with each stride. She collared Adoration while under strong handling and cleared away late.
"I was very glad to see those two mares fighting each other," Solis said. "It made it easier."
Victory Encounter hadn't won since taking the El Encino Stakes (gr. II) for 4-year-old filies at Santa Anita Jan 18. She was coming off a fourth-place finish after setting the pace in the Bed of Roses Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. III) at Aqueduct April 17. The Vanity was her second start after a two-month layoff.
Bred in Kentucky by Helen Smith, Victory Encounter, out of the Raise a Native mare Marvelous Moment, won for the sixth time in nine outings for her current connections. Still perfect in three startst at Hollywood Park, she bumped her career earnings to $404,520.
Victory Encounter paid $16.60 and $3.20. Adoration returned $2.20. The exacta was worth $42.40. Star Parade was third with Hope Rises trailing. Beaucette and Coconut Girl scratched.